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“We want the union to not only have a presence, but to have a positive presence.” — Liberty Education Association President Hillary Pedrotti

AS families escape the high cost of living in the San Francisco Bay Area, districts like Liberty Union High School District just 50 miles east in Contra Costa County are going through their own population boom. Along with an increase in students and schools is rapid growth in the teaching staff, as educators find a more hospitable and affordable environment in the changing rural towns beyond the bay.

As a result, the 400-member Liberty Education Association, based in Brentwood and nearby towns, is looking for innovative ways to engage newer members. Putting their heads together, LEA leaders came up with a simple program to welcome the influx of members who may not be new to teaching but are new to the district. Even better, the chapter received a $3,200 membership engagement grant from CTA to help kick off the LEA Friend program (LEAF), which pairs up veteran teachers with newer members to provide a friendly introduction to the district and community.

“New teachers have BTSA [Beginning Teacher Support and Assessment], but we’ve also been getting experienced teachers who are new to this district,” says LEA President Hillary Pedrotti, a Heritage High School English teacher. “We want them to feel part of the community.”

LEAF buddies may provide advice and insight regarding the culture of the district, or may be asked questions like: Where do I find a copy machine? Who do I talk to about ordering supplies? What do you do after school?

Sam Cooper, who teaches world history at Freedom High School in Oakley, says he was made to feel welcome and valued by his LEAF buddies when he relocated from Southern California.

“Having this group to share stories and pick up nuggets of advice is lifesaving. My colleagues are now my friends. The work environment is friendly and helpful, rather than hostile and discouraging.”

Not only is the program a welcome wagon for newly hired teachers, it also engages veteran LEA members who may not be ready to take on a leadership position in the union but still want to contribute. In its first year, the program has reached out to 35 new teachers and enlisted 40 veteran members.

“Brentwood hasn’t been the cool place to be, but now we’re getting a lot of new teachers and experienced teachers, and we want to keep them,” says Martha Dodson, an organizer of the effort and a math teacher at Heritage High School. “I think everyone is having fun doing this.”

Dodson and the LEA Membership Engagement Committee are already working on ways to expand the program next year.

“We want our members to be connected to their union,” Dodson says.

LEAF is not the only new venture by the association. LEA currently has an LCAP Steering Committee and a Social Justice and Equity Team in place. Pedrotti and the leadership team have been making concerted efforts to get more members to CTA regional conferences and onto State Council. She hopes to build up a Political Action Team and a Community Outreach Team in the coming year.

“We want the union to not only have a presence, but to have a positive presence,” Pedrotti says.

A Little About LEAF

From the Liberty Education Association Friend program description:

What do LEAFs do?

A LEAF’s major job is to make sure a new member has a positive, relevant connection to the association, site and district. LEAFs are advisers, advocates, resources, sounding boards and friends who:

  • Offer problem-solving strategies.
  • Encourage excellence.
  • Listen and support.
  • Encourage reflection on teacher instruction and practice.
  • Build positive connections and relationships.
  • Attend all LEA and LEAF events with their new member.

What do LEAFs not do?

LEAFs do not take the place of Peer Assistance and Review (PAR), Beginning Teacher Support and Assessment (BTSA), or administrative evaluations.

Get a Buddy, Be a Buddy

CTA’s Buddy Program pairs new teachers with vets to strengthen the profession

As most Educators can attest, the first few years of teaching are the hardest. In fact, new teachers report that the first months of work are stressful, lonely and exhausting.


CTA has developed a chapter-sponsored Buddy Program that can help move these members from “surviving” to “thriving.” Buddies are veteran educators who can be a supportive pal, mentor and sounding board – especially during new teachers’ probationary period. They provide an authentic and relevant relationship that makes a difference by helping a newbie understand, navigate and embrace the profession and all the riches it offers.

These relationships also extend participants’ professional networks, and connect them more closely to their site, district and local. Local leaders can take advantage of CTA resources to set up a buddy program now. And new teachers should check with their chapter about the program and how to get started.